Crying into a pile of sprinkles (or how to write a cookbook)

By Rachel Johnson

If you’re ever looking to torture yourself artistically and creatively, try writing a cookbook. When I was approached about writing Unicorn Food: Magical Recipes for Sweets, Eats, and Treats, the first thing out of my mouth was, “wait, what, like my name would be on it?” It was my first instance of self-doubt; how could a publisher possibly want me to write and photograph an actual physical, readable, cook-able book? And then sell it for… money? Oh wait, I had to remind myself, because I’m a badass who is good at food - that’s why.

I’ve thought about, written about, and photographed food ever since I could remember. I’ve worked for national food magazines, published my own content, and worked professionally as a food writer and recipe developer for a few years now— I’ve earned this. But the thing is, when I was presented with the opportunity to make this book, I had no idea what kind of failures I was about to experience. And I’m not just talking about cutting the Confetti Cake Roll recipe because the rolling technique crumbled on me twice. It was the failure of confidence I had to navigate, doubting my talent and ability (by way of cream puffs and sprinkle donuts). I suffered from impostor syndrome for months because I bought into the terror that I didn’t have any business getting paid for my work—who did I think I was? “Oh wait”, I had to remind myself (again), “you’ve been asked to do this because you’re good at what you do”.

Let’s say it together now: You Are Good At What You Do.

I will be the first one to tell you, this is not the easiest thing to remember when you’re elbow-deep in sprinkles with tears in your eyes. I very vividly remember my lowest moment when working on this book: I’m standing in front of a six-layer rainbow cake, covered in icing and sweat, and experiencing a fit of anxiety because the back half of this unicorn cake looks like a hot pile of garbage and I’m inches away from stuffing it in the trash and giving up. I swear the anxiety monster inside of me was this close to tossing the twelve pounds of sprinkles I mail-ordered down the garbage disposal, because I’m a loser who can’t make a cake and decorate it to look like a motherf**king magestical unicorn with butter and sugar. I remember my boyfriend, my sweet, kind boyfriend who endured this emotional rollercoaster with me, looking at me and saying “I know you can’t hear this right now, but some of the work I’ve seen you make for this book is the best you’ve ever done and you won’t be able to believe me until you see the photo tomorrow.”

Of course, he was right. It turned out to be an awesome photo... and when I finally posted it on Instagram to announce the project, all of the comments were filled with kindness and support. None of them could see the landslide of frosting that was happening behind the swirls of edible glitter, but I guess that’s the messy metaphor for all of this. It’s the work that you put into the final product that makes it that much more special. It may have taken a nightmarish amount of icing, a few temper tantrums, and a couple of pep talks from the people I love, but I’m so proud of this little book and I’m excited for it to be out in the world. Embrace the failure and allow yourself the doubt, but don’t let it take over and prevent you from seeing the finish line. It’s a pretty cool feeling to see the cover you shot on Amazon, and to have your friends across the country sending you screenshots of their pre-orders. I will definitely go through another bout of this when people actually start cooking from it, but it’s only going to push me to make a better next book- preferably one with less edible glitter. Just please don’t tell me if you spot a typo, okay?

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 Photo by Chelsea Laine Francis

Photo by Chelsea Laine Francis

Rachel Johnson is a food writer/stylist and enthusiastic Instagrammer who believes in Stupid Good Food. She creates recipes that are easy to follow and inspire fun in the kitchen. Her past work includes Chowhound, Cooking Light Magazine, Bon Appetit and Edible Austin, among others. She enjoys pizza, feminism, and creating joy through food. Rachel lives in Austin, TX with her pups and full pantry.

Chelsea Francis